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Our Mystery Man: Florencio Rivera – Part IV

Life with Ana Cruz García

By his 30th birthday, my grandfather, Florencio Rivera, had endured the deaths of up to eight people that were close to him, including a young wife and a toddler son. In the last blog, I revealed that his second wife, my grandmother, Ana Cruz García, had a baby girl named Matilde, born on January 27, 1907. Presumably, Florencio was the father, but since they were not married, Matilde’s death record only says that Matilde was Ana’s illegitimate child. Sadly, the baby died on September 23, 1908, just two months after the birth of her baby sister, Adela. Florencio and Ana’s surviving children were as follows: Adela (1908-1976), Óscar (1910-1995), María (1912-2009), Sinforiano (1913-1986), Elena (1913-1999), and Anita (1916-1998).

Ana Cruz García was of medium height, white complexion, dark eyes and long, long hair that went past her waist, but which she usually wore in a bun. My father, Oscar, said that his mother looked something like María Nicholson. Great-aunt Carmela, who was Ana’s half-sister, remembered her this way: Ana was feisty. She would argue with Flor and she would leave and go to her father’s house, taking with her all the children, and the cows and all the other animals. Oscar said that he remembered this. But Carmela also remembered that Ana was serviceable. She liked to help people–to be of service to them. If she heard that someone was sick, she would go to help them right away. If they wanted to borrow money, she would lend it immediately. She loved to raise animals and had many animals to sell and with which to raise money.

Everyone concurred that Ana loved to have neighborhood dances, and no one dared start a fight at one of them. She just wouldn’t let it happen. Great-Uncle Angelito said that Ana was tough–she had a very strong character. Right after she gave birth to Anita Merritt, someone told her that Flor had another woman. She got out of bed in a blind fury and ran outside of the house. She got rained on, came down with a fever, and died. She was only 34 years old. Life for the Rivera-Cruz children would never be the same after that.

Auntie Marie told me many years ago how she never forgot the day that her mother was being carried away in a hammock to be buried. I’ve carried in my mind the image of a little girl standing in the dirt batey of her front yard watching her mother being taken away down a mountain path.

During our time in Puerto Rico for the 2005 Rivera family reunion, cousin Joi and I were standing at an upstairs window in cousin Annie Meléndez’s house in Peñuelas. Annie pointed out a mountain in the distance, stating that it was Santo Domingo, the barrio in which Ana and all of her children were born, and where Ana had died. Later, Annie graciously took us on a driving tour of Peñuelas, where she pointed out the end of the mountain trail, now a paved road, that leads down from where our forefathers lived. To clarify things in my own mind, I asked Annie, “So you mean to say that when my grandmother was carried down the mountain in a hammock to be buried in town, this is the end of the road they traveled on?” Annie said that was correct. This brought Auntie Marie’s story full circle for me, and was, inexplicably, a very moving moment. That fall, back in California, as my sister, Olga, cousin Joi and I were looking at reunion pictures, Olga declared, “I want us to go up that mountain the next time we go to Puerto Rico.” We planned to return in four years and do just that, but tragically, Olga died in 2006.

The 2009 family reunion was held in Peñuelas and hosted by cousin Annie and her family. Fulfilling Olga’s desire, a group of twenty family
members led by cousin Millín (far left in the photo), traveled as close as we could get to the spot where Tío Angelito’s house had been on land that he had probably inherited from my great grandfather, Máximo. It was to Máximo’s house that Ana used to go with her children and farm animals in tow whenever she and Flor got into an argument, so she must have lived nearby. Otilia Pacheco Arroyo, mother of Isidro, Nery, Angélica, and Delia, also lived nearby as a girl. In fact, the 1910 census shows that Máximo and Genara’s house was #59 on the enumeration listing, Florencio and Ana’s house was #55, and Juan Pacheco and Manuela’s (Otilia’s parents) was #61. Walking the land that our ancestors lived, worked and died on and gazing upon the spectacular views (all the way to the Caribbean Sea) from that pinnacle of verdant land was an incredibly spiritual experience.

After Ana’s death on August 22, 1916, and after the typical novena of rosaries customary in the Catholic religion, Otilia Pacheco came to live with Flor as his common-law wife. He was 44 and she was not yet 19. Florencio’s oldest daughter, Adela, 8, and second oldest daughter, María, 4, were farmed out to other homes as live-in help. Auntie Marie told me she remembered having to do work—sweep, wash dishes, help with laundry, and fetch things—in exchange for room and board plus 75 cents a month. With a catch in her voice, she told me that during that time she only saw her father once a month, when he came to the house where she was staying to collect the 75 cents. He would give María a nickel and keep the rest. She said she grew up not knowing the warmth of parental love. The newborn baby, Anita, was raised by her grandfather, Máximo, and Genara (his second wife) until the age of seven, at which time she returned to live with Florencio and Otilia. Oscar, Sinforiano (“Guar”), and Elena remained at home, and were soon joined by younger siblings from the union of Flor and Otilia. Next blog: Florencio’s life with Otilia